Peter and Wendy
nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
May 8, 2011
Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy, now running at the New Victory, is a wonderful production to bring children to, but it is not a piece of children’s theater per se and you should definitely heed the recommendation that it is best for those eight and older. Its immensely beautiful theatricality is shot through with moments of deep sorrow for the loss of youth. You and your kids will recognize the basic story—the Darling children Wendy, Michael, and John fly off to have adventures in Neverland with Peter Pan, leaving their grieving parents and nursemaid, a dog named Nana, behind. However, here the focus is primarily on Wendy’s relationship with Peter and not on the amazing events that take place in Neverland. In this staging, based on J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, rather than his play Peter Pan of a few years earlier, the feeling is of childhood remembered from the distance of adulthood, rather than an experience of exuberant youthful adventures. The late Scottish composer Johnny Cunningham’s Celtic score (a nod to Barrie’s heritage), beautifully performed by live musicians and singers, adds to the feeling of nostalgic longing and loss.
Enacted with puppets, the play begins with The Narrator addressing the audience from a set reminiscent of a Victorian nursery bleached through the distance of memory. Over the course of the next nearly three hours, the all-white set, costumes, and for the most part props, become a screen on to which memory can be projected. This is sometimes literal, a filmed flying sequence and shadow puppets, but more often evocative, as oversized books are stacked to become stepping stones or a piano, or bedclothes become the sails of the Jolly Roger. The amazing Karen Kandel, who embodies vocally, and sometimes physically, every character in the story with amazing versatility, humor, and emotional depth, plays the character of Wendy—and it is as if, now that Wendy is grown, she can no longer leave the nursery for Neverland, only remember that she once did.
In fact, my daughter was initially incensed when we she discovered there was no lovely little Wendy puppet counterpart to the Peter Pan puppet and she had difficulty identifying with Kandel as Wendy. Conversely, I had no problem identifying at all. After my daughter hissed her displeasure at the lack of a child-size Wendy, I was worried she would demand that we leave at intermission. However, I needn’t have been concerned. Peter and Wendy won her over, and she was repeatedly delighted with the performance. She leaned forward in amazement when a large book opened up to reveal a nearly life-sized exterior of the Darling house pop-up style, and her mouth dropped up in disbelief when moments later “snow” began to fall on stage. Another favorite moment was a solo tango number for the crocodile who pines for “all” of Captain Hook.
Towards the end of the show, as Wendy weeps, but allows her daughter Jane to fly off to Neverland with Peter, my daughter turned to me with tears streaming down her cheeks and demanded “how does he expect her not to grow up?” Crying myself, I didn’t have an answer. However, with a mercurial change worthy of Peter Pan himself, moments later she was skipping down 42nd Street giggling. So while kids under a certain age may get there is a sort of sorrow at the heart of Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy, it is the magic they are likely to take away with them.